Sunday, October 6, 2013

English evolved from Scandinavian?

"The English language brings out the best in the Irish. They court it like a beautiful woman. They make it bray with donkey laughter. They hurl it at the sky like a paint pot full of rainbows, and then make it chant a dirge for man's fate and man's follies that is as mournful as misty spring rain crying over the fallow earth." T E Kalem —from Brendan Behan's play, Borstal Boy

A Science Daily post from Nov, 2012 suggests that English evolved from Scandinavian. Two professors in Norway make an interesting hypothesis that English evolved from Old Norse, making English North Germanic rather than West Germanic.
Jan Terje Faarlund, professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo said: "What is particularly interesting is that Old English adopted words for day-to-day things that were already in the language. Usually one borrows words and concepts for new things. In English almost the reverse is true—the day-to-day words are Scandinavian, and there are many of them," says Faarlund.
Here are some examples: anger, awe, bag, band, big, birth, both, bull, cake, call, cast, cosy, cross, die, dirt, dream, egg, fellow, flat, gain, get, gift, give, guess, guest, hug, husband, ill, kid, law, leg, lift, likely, link, loan, loose, low, mistake, odd, race, raise, root, rotten, same, seat, seem, sister, skill, skin, skirt, sky, steak, though, thrive, Thursday, tight, till, trust, ugly, want, weak, window, wing, wrong. Linguist Makes Sensational Claim: English Is a Scandinavian Language

I nearly snorted and circular breathed in my cuppa tea when I read that headline. I can hear the linguistic shit hitting the fan now.

Awww, there goes Beowulf!

So, let me get this straight, Everyone in the British Isles loved the Norse so much,   (they refused to have much to do with the invaders), that they couldn't even say Gimme an egg, Sister! in their own language(s) before the arrival of the Vikings? (It was mainly the Anglo—Saxons vs the short-lived Viking Danelaw (50 to 100 years of rule); most of the Britons were holed up in Wales or Brittany.

Sister and egg aren't even loan words ferhevinsakes! I'm no linguist but even I can poke holes in this argument. People usually borrow words and concepts for new things like computer, floppy disk, USB. Not for things they already know, or already have.

What would Bede say? All this splitting infinitives and hairs sounds like the Scandinavians are once again being culture pirates. A vikingr the academics will go.

Their hypothesis: English evolved out of Old Norse several centuries later? Not congruently? What about language drift, or convergent evolution—or even being closely related via the Indo-European continuum? It's like saying English (or Irish) evolved from Sanskrit because there are parallel words in both languages.

Sister is a prime example from the Proto-Indo-European continuum: *swésōr is recognizable and sounds familiar enough to be merely a dialect, rather than another language. No matter how many dialect armies and navys are conjured up, I'm fairly certain that Old Norse did not exist during the era that PIE was evolving. And then there's egg—clearly a very close word in Proto-Germanic:
From Middle English egge, from Old Norse egg (“egg”), from Proto-Germanic *ajją (“egg”).
Well, maybe egg isn't such a good example as Chaucer uses both ey, and egg. That could be a case of Norse and Anglo-Saxon eggs side by side. One could argue that that hard gg vs soft jj sound was borrowed from the Norse. I won't mention bull eggs here. (But you can look that world up if you like).

I wonder why outlaw wasn't on that list? That and law, and penny, schilling, etc.

The article was daft. (Not as daft as the eejit who recently posted that English has always existed in Great Britain. (MJ Harper, ‘The History of Britain Revealed’) The Belgae in Gaul and Britain were Celts, not Germans, ya twit. (It reads something like How the Martians Saved Civilization.) English ain't the mother tongue. Really.) Whose tongue was in what neither cheek?

Then there's the syntax argument:

•(subject/verb/object), SVO vs. Old English verb endings. Just to liven things up, Irish is VSOP. Good initials for brandy too. The Vikings, though they settled in Ireland too, had almost no impact on Irish other than town words, nautical terms, jarl, and window.

•Prepositions at the end of a sentence (a very good thing they didn't look at Irish!)

•My personal favorite: genitive (plural)s (The Queen of England's hat).

•Split infinitives (I promise to never laugh again). Well, there are no infinitive verbs in Irish, but we're not talking Irish here.

I admit I'm shaky on syntax. I know by doing. (By writing, that is). But since I had to go and make that strange segue, apparently the Norse absorbed more Irish words than the Irish themselves did of Old Norse words: "bachall (staff, crozier) >bagall; capall (horse) > kapall; lám (hand) > lámr; tarb (bull) > tarfr; and teine (fire) > dini.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, one Norse word for a ship lung is taken from the Irish long." —Medieval Review Ó Muirithe, Diarmaid. From the Viking Word-Hoard: A Dictionary of Scandinavian Words in the Languages of Britain and Ireland. Dublin.

I'm sure I could argue some silly string theory that Gaelic impacted Old Norse, as spoken by Vikings, who, were, after a generation or two, no longer even Norse, but Norse-Irish, and Norse-Scottish. Irish and Scottish were pretty much the same people in those days as there was no Kingdom of Scotland yet. I can't use the term "one people" because nobody was unified.

Viking men did not bring any Norse women with them when they settled new turf. They just kidnapped Irish and Scottish women—and women are the bearers of language and culture—they taught their kids to speak Irish. And to a lesser degree, Norse British/Anglo-Saxon, mix, etc. (Iceland and the Faroes have a higher Irish/Scottish mDNA, than Norse yDNA but I already wrote about that).

So why would Old English suddenly die out, leave a linguistic void, and Old Norse suddenly take its place, and then evolve into modern English? Old habits die hard. We won't mention the other four English dialects that concurrently existed in the British Isles. Who has read Beowulf, or Sir Gawain in the original dialect? Or Blind Harry's Wallace?

OK, so the "Pearl Poet" author of Sir Gawain was from ca. the 14th c., as were Blind Harry, and Chaucer a little before that, and Beowulf was written in the late 10th or early 11th c., but the texts do serve to demonstrate that several different Middle English dialects survived, Not Old Norse. BTW, Beowulf was translated into late West Saxon from an older English dialect.

Clearly this is a case of lunatic fringe instead of Celtic Fringe. Like I said, those Norse academicians are cultural pirates! I don't think anyone was hypothetically sober at the time. Bring on Monty Python's version of Njall's Saga! Skol pafiskin!

Read why it ain't so here:

English is not North Germanic

Language Log » English or Engelsk?

Now if they had suggested a strong relationship between Frisian and English—as the easiest way to learn Old English is to learn Frisian first.

Viking Legacy On English: What Language Tells Us About Immigration And Integration Terms such as ‘law’, ‘ugly’, ‘want’, 'husband' and ‘take’ are loanwords from Old Norse— they tend to refer to high culture, law, government and hunting.

See also:

Old English

The dialects of Middle English

From My FB friend Nik Gervae—who is a linguist:

English is something of a bastard amalgam of a language, created by waves of immigration/invasion, with both vocabulary and syntax from Brittonic languages, Germanic languages (at least two separate waves of influence, the West Germanic and the Scandinavian), and Norman French...not to mention all the vobcabulary it's cheerfully pilfered from languages across the former British Empire and beyond.

These guys are clearly aiming for some sensationalism (as noted in the article title). The mere insistence that a language has to be directly descended from one and only one parent is pushing things pretty far. It's clear that the argument isn't all that sound! In form it's plausible, but the data just don't support it. The Science Daily article was very, hm, "selective" in what it offered up, but these other writers pull in a lot more good context that shows the flaws in the idea. Well, they've got drunk cooking, drunk history, drunk filmmaking, why not drunk academicizing?

History of the English language English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisiandialects brought to Britain by Germanic invaders and/or settlers from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the Netherlands. Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins...

Stratum (linguistics) In linguistics, a stratum or strate (Latin: layer) is a language that influences, or is influenced by another through contact. A substratum or substrate is a language which has lower power or prestige than another, while a superstratum or superstrate is the language that has higher power or prestige...

Middle English creole hypothesis The Middle English creole hypothesis is the concept that the English language is a creole, i.e., a language that developed from a pidgin. The vast differences between Old and Middle English have led some historical linguists to claim that the language underwent creolisation at the time of Norman Conquest...

Olaf the Peacock's Irish Mother This is the blog I was working on when I stumbled upon above link that  English came from Scandinavian. I saw red, all right.

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